Breastfeeding and maternal sensitivity predict early infant temperament

Acta Paediatr. 2015 Jul;104(7):678-86. doi: 10.1111/apa.12987. Epub 2015 Apr 22.


Aim: Research findings are inconclusive when it comes to whether breastfeeding is associated with the mother-infant relationship or infant temperament. We examined the association between breastfeeding at three months postpartum and infant temperament at 18 months postpartum and whether this link was affected by the mothers' anxiety and mediated by her sensitivity.

Methods: We assessed 170 mothers for breastfeeding and anxiety using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) at three months postpartum, maternal sensitivity using the Ainsworth Sensitivity Scale at six months postpartum and infant temperament using the Early Childhood Behaviour Questionnaire at 18 months postpartum.

Results: Mothers who breastfed at three months postpartum were more sensitive in their interactions with their infants at six months postpartum, and elevated sensitivity, in turn, predicted reduced levels of negative affectivity in infant temperament at 18 months postpartum. This indirect mediation persisted after controlling for confounders (effect ab = -0.0312 [0.0208], 95% CI = -0.0884 to -0.0031). A subsequent analysis showed that the mediation through sensitivity only occurred in women experiencing higher anxiety, with a STAI score ≥33.56 at three months (ab = -0.0250 [0.0179], 95% CI = -0.0759 to -0.0013).

Conclusion: Our results suggest that breastfeeding and maternal sensitivity may have a positive impact on the early development of infant temperament.

Keywords: Anxiety; Breastfeeding; Infant temperament; Maternal sensitivity; Postpartum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Breast Feeding / psychology*
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Temperament*